The Hill Times – Monday, Jan. 16, 2017
TORONTO—The big question in Ottawa these days is “where was the prime minister vacationing.” The conflict of interest commissioner is also considering investigating Justin Trudeau’s vacation just after Christmas because he and his family accepted trips on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter to his private island in the Bahamas. It appears to violate a section of the Conflict of Interest Act which prohibit cabinet ministers from accepting sponsored travel. The Aga Khan Development Network also receives some of its funding from the Canadian government.
There’s no doubt that media must be vigilant about how taxpayers’ money is spent and about the integrity of our politicians, but we also have to be careful about the issues we focus too much on because we risk becoming irrelevant.
Let’s face it, had Justin Trudeau gone skiing in the Swiss Alps or Aspen, Colo., I would have supported some of the criticism. But the desire to break the long Canadian winter for warm and sunny destinations is something millions of Canadians do every every year and the prime minister has the right to do the same.
Some argue that, contrary to other Canadians, the prime minister is a public person and it’s taxpayers’ money because he’s using a “pricey” government jet and has a security detail. First, the security detail is not a discretionary decision made by the Prime Minister’s Office, and the expense of it would be the same even if vacationing in Canada. Furthermore, this is an exclusive responsibility of the RCMP. As for the use of a military jet, it is cheaper than the usage of commercial flights for many reasons.
The cost of the military jet is not even close to the thousands of dollars suggested by the media. Even if they don’t fly, the cost of maintaining these jets is in the thousands of dollars even if they remain in the hangar. It is the same for the crew. The only additional cost when they fly is the fuel and some landing rights.
And these expenses would be the same even if flying in Canada. Conversely, flying the prime minister, his entourage, and the RCMP officers commercially would cost much more. It is a tempest in a teapot, not deserving so much media attention.
What about the Trudeau Foundation’s issue? I have huge problems with the concept of the foundation itself. It is used by rich people to fund initiatives not always properly screened. For example, a few years ago, talking to a friend about the cost of education for our children, he told me that he was receiving scholarship money for his daughter from a foundation. I knew he was working for the corporation handling that foundation. The concept of foundations is very noble, in principle. However, it is also a huge loophole to legally finance some personal activities without paying taxes.
Was Trudeau still part of the Foundation when the $200,000 were received? Yes, it would be interesting to know but, at the same time, it would be much more interesting to take a closer look at how that money is spent because, through the generous tax breaks, most of it comes from the taxpayer’s pocket.
However, it is not a good enough reason to perpetuate this approach of elevating gossip to the rank of news, while ignoring real news that would be of huge interest to all Canadians.
For example, it would be interesting to follow up on a dramatic report sponsored by the United Nations, according to which Canada “faces an important domestic and foreign money laundering threat” from criminal organizations that launder billions of dollars into this country. The report was published this fall and, aside from a column I published in The Toronto Star a couple months ago, it has not been mentioned in the news or in Parliament by any politician in government or in opposition.
Furthermore, a former Liberal Ontario MPP, Laureano Leone, has produced a long list of medicines that cost two or three times more in Canada than what pharmaceutical makers charge in Europe. We are charged by hundreds of millions of dollars extra as we struggle to finance our public health system. There might be a reason for it. But despite many requests from Leone to politicians, governments and media will not raise the issue, and aside from a story in The Hill Times, nobody is talking about it.
Angelo Persichilli is a freelance journalist and a former citizenship judge for the Greater Toronto Area. He was also a director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper, former columnist for Toronto Star and Toronto Sun and former political editor of Corriere Canadese, Canada’s Italian-language newspaper in Toronto.
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